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"Bespoke" wins Mercedes-Benz Award in Cape Town

Each year, Mercedes-Benz sponsors a fashion film contest at the Bokeh International Film Festival in Cape Town, South Africa. Director Ashley Avis Winters and producer Edward Winters are regulars at the festival but had not planned to enter this year due to a conflict with the production schedule of their most recent feature. However, when Bokeh extended their submission deadline, Ashley gave me a call and we hit the ground running to shoot a two-and-a-half-minute Mercedes spot in a matter of days. 

The producing team secured some great locations and an incredible crast: the beautiful Natalia Barulich and the suave Miklos Banyai. We discussed the tone and pace for the film, however, since there was no time to scout locations, a lot of the specifics were worked out on the fly. Steadicam operator Wael Shukha joined us for two half-days, allowing us to move efficiently through the more involved setups. Gaffer Chris Tonkovich and I devised minimalist solutions to light each sequence. Chris brought along a small assortment of battery-powered LEDs which we used to light most of the film including the night exteriors. We shot with an Arri Alexa Mini at 48fps, Zeiss Ultra Primes and a 1/8 Soft FX filter. Below are a few production stills describing some of the challenges we encountered and how were able to work through them.

For Natalia's preparation sequence, our set was located on the third floor of a warehouse so we were unable to place any lights outside the window. Fortunately, the direction of the sun worked in our favor and it was streaming through the window when we arrived on set. We were shooting splits so by the time Natalia was finished with hair and makeup we had about 30 minutes to shoot the sequence. We added a little haze in the room to get a beautiful shaft of light and managed to shoot out the wide shots before we lost the sun. The Steadicam really helped us move through this efficiently and even after the sun had dipped down over the horizon, there was still a beautiful soft key to get close-ups with Natalia at the window.

For the tailor sequence, we set an M18 full-stick outside the window through a small opening between some exterior stairs. We used a Skypanel S-60 chimera through a frame of 250 to key the tailor and Chris (gaffer) brought in a handheld LED LiteMat 3 when we needed an additional edge for Miklos.

The banquet hall where we shot the party sequence had some existing incandescents and a small assortment of LED fixtures. We found a base level for the incandescents and dialed the LEDs to a nice Cyan color which contrasted well with Natalia's red dress. The hero shot where she comes down the stairs was a long Steadicam move and we were not able to hide a key light for her. Chris (gaffer) and I decided to create a spotlight using a 26 degree LED Source 4 from the opposite balcony. We softened the edges to make it less prominent. We employed a big book light with the Skypanel S-60 for the close-ups in the sequence. We began with about 40 extras but lost many as the night continued so we had to be proactive about placing them in the right spots to make the party appear full.

The art department had initially set up the red carpet inside the banquet hall since it would be easier to control. However, Ashley (director) and I loved the look of the exterior upon arrival and realized that we could reveal the Mercedes and red carpet in a single shot. Chris (gaffer) put the Skypanel S-60 on the roof of the banquet hall to key Miklos and the Mercedes as it arrived. He used 2 LED Source 4s to pick up detail on some trees down the street to add depth. Realizing that it was totally motivated to have practical lights in-shot for the red carpet sequence, we placed Natalia's key light on a stand next to the red carpet for the arrival and departure shots. We gave digital cameras with practical flashes to several of the background "photographers" and encouraged them to flash them as often as possible while rolling. 

We knew we needed at lease a few driving shots to tie the sequence together so Ana (1st AC) and myself popped the Alexa on a high hat in the trunk of a Jeep while Ashley (director) and Ed (Producer) led the Mercedes around the 6th Street Bridge area of Los Angeles. Chris (Gaffer) rigged the ceiling of the Mercedes with LED strips. Initially, we noticed some weird double-highlights from the headlights of the Mercedes but these went away when we pulled the 1/8 Soft FX out of the camera. We also noticed a little bit of strobing from the streetlights which was remedied a bit by going to 40fps but is still a bit noticeable in the final edit.